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Home arrow Environment arrow Saving the Environment in Sub-Saharan Africa: Organizational Dynamics and Effectiveness of NGOs in Cameroon
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Extent and Nature of NGO Relationships with Government

The Cameroonian national government and its regional branches have the potential to be very important actors in the environmental NGOs’ social context, and this is clearly true in some cases. Overall, however, our results, like Dierig’s (1999) study in Ethiopia, suggest that government plays only a somewhat marginal role in the day-to-day operations of Cameroonian environmental NGOs and that NGOs and the government hold one another at arm’s length. Table 8.1 shows responses to a set of questions from various parts of our interviews that have a bearing on this issue.

When we asked our interviewees about the strengths of their NGOs, only 17 percent mentioned relationships with government as a strength of their organization, ranking this response sixth behind a variety of other strengths (for full results, see chapter 6). Most of these responses simply stated that the NGO had a good working relationship with the

Table 8.1 Types of experiences with government reported by NGOs

Type of experience

Percentage reporting

Mentions relationship with government as strength of NGO

17

Mentions difficulties with government as weakness of NGO

12

Mentions problems in relationship with government as hindering success in reaching goals

14

Mentions policies/influence of government as affecting goals (from open-ended question about influences on goals)

17

Responds “yes” to direct question about whether government has tried to influence NGO goals

40

Received grants or contracts from Cameroonian government

10

Says government has interfered with projects

21

Has received assistance from Cameroonian government with projects

55

government or one of its subunits, without offering much further detail. In their responses to a parallel question about their NGO’s weaknesses (see chapter 6), an even smaller number of NGOs (12 percent) mentioned problems or difficulties with government as a weakness, placing problems with government in a three-way tie for sixth place. Although fewer in number, the descriptions of problems with government as a weakness were more specific than those for relationships with government as a strength, focusing mainly on government inefficiency or corruption. We discuss these complaints in more detail below.

Additional information about the importance of government to the NGOs came from a question (directed only to interviewees who said that their NGO had been “not very successful” or “completely unsuccessful” in reaching at least one of its goals) about the factors that had hindered their success (see chapter 6). Among these interviewees, only 14 percent reported that problems in their relationship with government were a factor in their NGO’s failures. This response, tied for fifth place, ranked far behind shortages of funds or resources and somewhat behind problematic relationships with local communities. The responses about government as a hindrance to success focused on inefficiency, foot-dragging, lack of commitment to the environment, and corruption.

In view of the small percentages of NGOs that cited their relationships with government as a strength, a weakness, or a hindrance to reaching their goals, differences among the responses from different types of NGOs should not be overinterpreted; however, in each case, Type II Cameroonian NGOs were the least likely to mention government as a factor in their successes or failures. It is possible that the smaller scale and geographic scope of their operations made them of little interest to government officials, either as candidates for funding or as groups requiring careful monitoring and attention.

We also asked interviewees an open-ended question about outside influences on their NGO’s choice of goals (see chapter 6). In their responses, only 17 percent of the interviewees mentioned government policies or influence attempts as affecting their choice of goals, ranking this factor third behind the influence of international trends and donor organizations. Most of the responses about government influence were general in nature, mentioning factors such as overall government policy, problems dealing with government’s conflicting goals, and the need to accommodate to current efforts to decentralize government administration. Only one interviewee mentioned direct pressure from government to add specific goals—in this case, an emphasis on HIV/AIDS. Once again, Type II Cameroonian organizations were less likely to attribute a salient role to government, and the difference this time was striking. Only 5 percent of these NGOs mentioned government policies as influencing their goals, compared to 40 percent of international NGOs and 31 percent of Type I Cameroonian organizations.

Later in the interview, we asked respondents a direct question about whether the authorities ever tried to influence their goals. As frequently occurs in this sort of research, the direct question elicited a higher percentage of positive responses than the open-ended item. Forty percent of the interviewees responded affirmatively, with Type II Cameroonian organizations again having the lowest percentage reporting government influence. Interestingly, a few interviewees who responded that government did not try to influence their goals then went on to volunteer additional information about the impact of government on their goal setting. We have incorporated their comments, along with responses to a follow-up question asking for examples of how the government had tried to influence the NGOs’ goals in Table 8.2. The results show that many of the interviewees interpreted the question rather broadly, as many of the responses and examples provided did not reflect direct influence attempts but broader comments about their NGO’s relationship with government.

Almost a third of the responses simply stated that they had good relationships with government. Many of these comments emphasized that the NGO worked in a constructive partnership with government. As one interviewee put it, “We work hand in glove with government.” Some of these interviewees went on to say that their goals and government’s were complementary or that they provided valuable services or information, such as information about forest degradation, to the government. Other interviewees spoke approvingly of assistance they received from government, such as access to

Table 8.2 Types of government influence on goals reported by interviewees

Type of influence

Percentage reporting

NGO has positive working relationships with government

32

Must/advantageous to take government plans, priorities, and laws into account

13

Government wanted NGO to stop/not pursue or add a specific goal or project

13

Direct and intimidating government efforts to discourage NGO from pursuing one of more goals

10

Government or government officials resent and resist the growth of the NGO sector

10

Lack of government financial support for NGOs

6

Consultations with government in process of goal setting

3

Other

23

N=31.

media, invitations to meetings, or encouragement or public acknowledgement of the NGO’s contribution by government officials. We examine the topic of government assistance in more detail below. Four interviewees (13 percent) referred to the necessity of taking government’s plans, priorities, or regulations into account, and one organization mentioned consulting with the government about its goals. These responses indicate only mild government influence over the NGOs.

Most of the comments about more direct government influence, however, came in the form of complaints. Four interviewees (13 percent) said that government evidenced disapproval of some of their projects or goals, and three (10 percent) cited more heavy-handed influence attempts. These results are similar to a broader study of development NGOs across Africa (Dibie, 2007b), which found that about a third of NGOs said that government disapproved of their projects, while 50 percent said government approved of them. Three interviewees (ten percent) said that government officials resented or resisted the growth of the NGO sector. We provide more details about these types of complaints below. Finally two interviewees (6 percent) used this opportunity to complain about lack of financial assistance from the government. But whether one focuses on negative forms of influence or more positive forms, the overall percentage of NGOs reporting significant government influence is not large, especially when one takes into account the fact that many of the NGOs did not answer this question because they had already stated without qualification that government did not influence them.

We also included a question that asked specifically whether the government had ever interfered with any of the NGO’s projects. Less than a quarter (21 percent) of the 52 NGOs reported any such interference. This percentage is very much in line with the results reported in the previous paragraph. Once again, Type II Cameroonian organizations were least influenced by government. Only 15 percent of them said government had interfered with their projects, compared to 31 percent of Type I NGOs and 20 percent of international NGOs. We provide more details about the specific problems the NGOs experienced below.

We also obtained information about the amount of assistance the environmental NGOs received from the Cameroonian government. In response to a general, open-ended question about their sources of funding (see chapter 7), only 10 percent of our interviewees mentioned government grants or contacts. Type II Cameroonian NGOs were slightly less likely to have received help than Type I organizations; however, none of the international NGOs reported receiving money from the government. Clearly, the Cameroonian government does not figure as a major source of funding for environmental NGOs.

In another section of the interview, we asked interviewees whether they had received any assistance with their projects from the Cameroonian government. Just over half (55 percent) of the respondents reported receiving some form of assistance. These responses indicate a higher level of involvement with the government than the other items in Table 8.1, but it is noteworthy that almost half of the NGOs we studied told us that they did not receive any assistance at all. Cameroonian Type II organizations were least likely (45 percent) to have received government assistance.

We went on to inquire about the kinds of assistance the NGO received.1 By far, the most commonly cited type was technical expertise, consulting, or advice. Close to half (44 percent) of the interviewees mentioned this type of assistance. Valuable as the advice might sometimes be, it, nevertheless, represents a fairly modest and inexpensive form of help. Respondents who specified a type of technical assistance mentioned receiving advice about matters as diverse as tree planting, well drilling, forest management, and recycling.

All other types of assistance were mentioned by 15 percent or less of the interviewees. Fifteen percent said the government provided them with formal endorsements of their work or letters of support, which were often required as part of their funding applications. Twelve percent mentioned being provided with free use of land, buildings, work space, or electricity. Forms of assistance mentioned by less than 10 percent of respondents included formal training or workshops on topics such as wildlife or forest management and/or training and reference materials, equipment for projects such as tree planting or recycling, and publicizing the NGO or its work. Only one interviewee said his NGO received funds from government. This probably reflects in part the question’s focus on assistance rather than money, but it is consistent with the low proportion (ten percent) of NGOs that mentioned government contracts or grants in response to our question about their funding sources.

Even though the question about types of assistance did not ask directly about this, a good many interviewees took the occasion to voice complaints about government’s failure to help, often revealing considerable bitterness. Not infrequently, these complaints came after acknowledging receipt of some form of assistance that the interviewee viewed as trivial. We discuss these complaints in more detail below.

 
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